an interview with lil peep from september 2017
On 1st September, Gustav Åhr came to the i-D office for a cup of tea. We shot these portraits and he told us that he was in a good place with drugs, friends and his career.
This article originally appeared in The Sounding Off Issue, no. 350, Winter 2017.
About three months ago, not long before his 21st birthday, we spoke to the artist known as Lil Peep for the latest issue of i-D. We were deeply saddened to hear of his death on the 15th of November, and felt it inappropriate to post this interview then. In light of the release of a posthumous music video, and with the blessing of Gustav’s team, today we’re sharing what we believe to be one of his final interviews.
“I have horrible anxiety,” Lil Peep says from behind his sweater. “That’s why I took a Xanax before this interview. I used to abuse it really badly, like 20 pills a day, having seizures in my sleep, waking up in my own shit. I don’t abuse it anymore. It’s just, when I have something like a concert or an interview… if I’m nervous, I’ll just do one and I’m chill.” Surely being a big deal in the music world means a lot of concerts and interviews? “Not too many. I’m doing better, drug wise. I was really bad earlier this year, and last year, and the year before that. I feel better now. Being in London helps a lot, away from LA. All the drugs are free in LA. I mean, they’re still free here, there’s just less of them.”
A self-described weirdo teenager, Gustav Åhr (his absent father is Swedish) escaped an apathetic and drug-fuelled upbringing on Long Island and headed to LA at 18 with the aim of creating something, anything. Once in the City of Angels, he began channelling his hurt into emotional hip-hop. “I always knew I was gonna be an artist. I was very confident in that,” Gus shares from a cosy corner of the i-D office sofa where he’s cradling a cup of tea with milk, one sugar. “I got the broken heart tattoo on my face when I was 17 years old, just to force myself to really do some shit,” he continues. “Because, you know, getting a tattoo on your face is gonna stop you from getting a lot of jobs.” His mum, who began calling him Peep as a child, didn’t think it was quite as genius. “She doesn’t like them on my face because she thinks I’m pretty,” he says, bashfully. Assured that he is pretty, even with a ‘crybaby’ tattoo scrawled across his forehead, he gets more shy, and says thanks.
He began sharing his music online and soon built up a following. “Once I found out that people were really making careers for themselves off the internet, independently, I was really inspired.” Peep might have risen up through the over-saturated SoundCloud community, but he stands out. While he sings like a rapper, he’s majorly influenced by melodies from American punk-pop anthems and lyrical themes more akin to angsty mid-00s emo. Drawing from subcultures past and present to forge a new one of his own, Lil Peep’s is the genre we didn’t know we wanted, but we’re very grateful for all the nostalgia and soul soothing it brings.
“I wouldn’t be alive right now without music,” he says, earnestly. “It’s got me out of serious drug addiction. It’s got me through suicidal shit, self-harm, the list goes on.” Gus hasn’t had the easiest start to life and, like he’s mid-therapy session, doesn’t mince his words when talking about it. “Music makes me cry,” he continues. “It helps me let shit out and express myself -- both listening to it and making it.”
Four self-produced and self-released mixtapes deep, in August Gus levelled up with the guitar-heavy debut album Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 1, released on Warner. “I recorded it at home in LA on an $800 microphone plugged into my 2012 Macbook,” he smiles. “I record on GarageBand actually, which is pretty funny.” Lil Tracy features on the anthemic lead single Awful Things, that comes complete with hellish high school themed music video and the perfectly angsty lyrics: 'Burn me down, ‘til I’m nothing but memories / I get it girl, I’m not the one.' The chorus of U Said, meanwhile, sees him coin the millennial mantra: “Sometimes life gets fucked up, that’s why we get fucked up.” The album is poppier and more polished than ever before, and it’s opened up a whole new world for him.
Our new pal Peep is currently working between London and LA on no less than four projects. Part two of Come Over When You’re Sober is in the bag, he promises, but he’s more excited about the album he’s making with openly gay rapper Makonnen. Currently living just off the unlikely destination of Portobello Road, Peep’s been in town for a few months and loves London’s big-city-with-a-small-town-feel. “The fans here are different too,” he explains. “When someone recognises me in the street, in the States they yell really loud and when I turn around there’s like six flashes in my face. Over here, it’s like, ‘Yo Peep!’ and I’m like ‘Yo!’ and then we walk our separate ways. They treat you like a human that makes music rather than a celebrity.”
The album with Makonnen is set to be very different to anything we’ve heard from Peep so far. “There’s a lot of weird trance and 70s/80s vibes,” he describes, “and it’s more pop. It’s the first project that I’ve recorded in an actual studio.” Perhaps Makonnen’s latest tune Love, featuring Rae Sremmurd, which is more pop than previous releases and definitely leans into the Peep world, is a hint at what the collaboration will sound like? “It’s still the same me talking about the same shit, but it’s a whole different style of music. Not totally guitar-based, you know? Most of my shit is like, Brand New style, but this is totally different.” He finds working with Makonnen (one of his favourite artists alongside The Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Fall Out Boy) to be quite the experience, noting that the Atlanta rapper doesn’t prep ahead of studio time and generally nails things in just one take. “He’s so talented! He just goes in and says whatever comes into his head. It’s crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
His life has changed drastically in the past year, with his career skyrocketing, relationships breaking down, and Peep taking to Twitter this summer to come out as bisexual. “I’ve got a lot of friends…” he starts out, “or people I thought were friends at least. I’ve had some traumatic relationship experiences. Going all over the world and meeting new fans and seeing the effect I have on people is crazy. Mentally, I’m a lot stronger and more used to fuckery, you know? I think it’s made me more mature.” Suddenly finding himself deep in the music industry and watching how those around him have changed when money and popularity came along has been tough. “It’s taught me a lot about relationships and who really cares for me, as Gus, and who cares about what Lil Peep is doing, you know?”
So how’s Gus doing? He’s happy right now, but has a disclaimer: “I’m bipolar, so I go back and forth really quick. I’m independent but I depend on the people that I surround myself with to keep my mind off shit, so I get really upset when I’m alone.” Luckily, he has that in the form of a support network of friends that stick around, or at least FaceTime him regularly to check he’s okay. As a longtime fan of Linkin Park, the news of frontman Chester Bennington’s death this summer hit him hard. “Yeah, that was devastating. Rest in peace Chester,” he half whispers. “You know, a lot of people nowadays are making music that’s glorifying depression and suicide. I’m just speaking about my real life and documenting it in my music. There are people who are really capitalising on the emo or punk look, but we’re over here suffering from serious mental problems.” He’s not just doing it for himself, he’s doing it for the listeners, the fans, the kids from Russia who have reached out to him thanking him for understanding what they’re going through.
It sounds like Gus is doing better now than he has in a long time. “I have a fortune cookie fortune taped above the light switch in my bedroom at my mum’s house,” he states. “It says something about never giving up but way more poetic, because, you know, you’re never gonna make it anywhere if you give up. I taped it up there before I even started making music and when I went back recently I thought it might have been taken down, but it’s still there!” The guiding voice of his teenage years, manifested, and yet Gus doesn’t feel satisfied. “I feel like I’m always waiting for something to happen, and it just hasn’t happened yet,” he says. “But that’s cool. I’ll be waiting!”
Editor's note: A small edit was made to the original interview when publishing online for sensitivity.
Photography Ian Kenneth Bird
Styling Rúben Moreira
Grooming Michael Harding using Bumble and bumble. Photography assistance Luca Strano. Styling assistance Trey Rodriguez and Diana Amorim.